Ethiopia’s unsettled political landscape: The recent protests and civil unrest in the country have uncloaked repressed historical grievances at the heart of Ethiopia’s impressive economic growth.

By Yvonne Rowa (Foreign Brief) |

Former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation has briefly unsettled Ethiopia’s political trajectory. The leadership transition comes at an awkward time for Africa’s second most populous country. Ethiopia is among the world’s fastest-growing economies, aided by international investment — notably from China and India — and struggling to implement a state of emergency as widespread protests threaten to slip out of government control. Hailemariam’s successor will have to balance numerous competing interests to keep the country’s growth on track.

Fractious Ethnic Relations

Ethiopia has long struggled with pockets of armed resistance in Oromia, Amhara, Tigray, Gambella and the Somali-dominated Ogaden regions. While these conflicts partially arise from flawed developmental policies, the state of instability has conversely created a hostile environment for development.

After the death of his predecessor, Hailemariam — who hails from the minority Wolayta tribe — assumed national leadership in 2012, presumably as a compromise candidate. However, he quickly came to be perceived as a figurehead for the politically dominant Tigrayan tribe, which constitutes 6% of the population.

From 2015, the Amhara and Oromos, who make up the majority of the country’s population, staged persistent mass protests. Their demands for an end to political exclusion and flagrant human rights violations led to the declaration of a state of emergency in 2016. Approximately 20,000 were arrested and 600 killed in the ensuing government crackdown. The cessation of the state of emergency in 2017 sparked another round of mass demonstrations and prompted the latest state of emergency.

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